Early Good Fortune

Last year, when I was living at my building on Hannibal’s West Side, one of my neighbors was a black woman. I had gotten to know her and her extended family and I would often walk up the street for a visit. The woman is married, but her more-or-less estranged husband Lucky lives in Columbia. He comes to Hannibal from time to time and stays a few days. He would say “Aw, sometimes I just need to see what my grandchildren are up to!”

Lucky is a grumbly, gray-haired curmudgeon with a tendency to mutter. He uses an aluminum cane due to old war injuries which give him some trouble. He and I got along pretty well and I could usually prime his verbal pump. He has some interesting stories from his years living in West LA.

Lucky and his wife tended to wrangle after he had been at her house for a while. He would get fed up with family drama and come to my place and bang on the door. I’d let him in and he would complain about the steep stairs:

“Dammit, Larry, why the hell do you live upstairs?”

Lucky would stay for half an hour or so and we’d talk. During one of these visits I asked him “Why do they call you Lucky, anyway?”

Lucky chuckled. “Larry, there’s a good reason for that nickname; they’ve been calling me that ever since I was a day old.”

“My momma went to the hospital to have me and she had an awful time of it. She was in labor for hours and hours. When I was finally delivered I was stillborn — all blue and skinny, and I wasn’t breathing. I can’t blame ’em for thinkin’ I was dead.”

“At that hospital they had a room in the basement where they took dead folks. There were shelves for the bodies, and one shelf had cubbyholes for dead babies and little kids. That’s where they put me. Once a day the undertaker would come by the hospital and pick up the day’s dead bodies and haul ’em off. The hospital janitor would help load the truck.”

“Now, I’m still grateful to that janitor. He saw my toes twitchin’ a little bit and said to the undertaker “By gawd — I think that little black bugger over there is alive!”

“See why they call me Lucky?”

Larry

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Early Good Fortune

  1. Leslie

    Great story, Larry! He truly was lucky with those twitchin’ toes.

  2. Virginia

    I wonder why only the janitor took time enough to notice the baby’s toes wiggle. I realize modern methods of detecting tiny evidences of life in a person were not available, but still it makes me wonder how many stillborn infants were really capable of life.

  3. Lucky seems to be in his mid-sixties, which means that he was born back in the mid 1940s. There very well might have been some instinctive racism involved –“Oh, here comes another black woman in labor! Let’s try to move her on through…”

  4. Darrell

    Actually, the stillborn thing happened to me at Levering Hospital (or so my Mom told me) in 1943. The delivering doc, an old gentleman named Motley, pronounced me dead to my Dad (who’d been allowed into the delivery room because of the gloomy prospect of my survival). “Here’s your boy, Alfred, but he’s already dead.” However the attending nurse . . described by my Mom as “an old woman in her 60’s” . . . didn’t give up; she came over, uttered something under her breath, picked me up shook me a bit, and started to suction me with a tube. Shortly after I began sputtering and coughing, and never looked back.
    I never knew her name. No one seems to have noted it.
    However, I can’t recall any of it, so . . . .

  5. Thanks for your story, Darrell!

    I’ve met several Hannibal people who were born at Levering, which is now not a hospital but an “assisted living facility”.

  6. Darrell

    Shades of “The Name of the Rose” . . . probably the most important woman in my life and I never learned her name.

  7. Virginia

    Larry, I wondered about racism myself-someone not seeing the baby as that important. But perhaps they were super busy that day/night. Twenty-eight babies were born on the day my daughter was born in a naval hospital. Women and babies were moved in and out of those delivery rooms at record speed.
    Darrell, I never knew that about you. Glad you survived!

  8. Darrell

    Glad I survived too. Maybe I’ve tended to suppress the tale because it got out into circulation when I was at Eugene Field and some of the guys got a big kick of telling it in such a way as to indicate I really was a wimp. For a jr-high kid, that was a bit to endure, so I never mentioned it to my pals again. Lucky was apprently luckier?

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